Read These 5 Rock Memoirs by Women Right Now

Features. Posted 3 years ago

Courtney Sanders

Patti Smith recently announced she will write a new book, a follow up to her heart-wrenching memoir about her young life with Robert Mapplethorpe in New York, Just Kids. This is amazing news, not just because the world needs more stories by writers who are as elegant as Patti Smith is, or because she will include archive photographs, and perving on archive photographs is an excellent pastime, but because the world needs more stories written by women. We need to populate the historical narrative with our perspectives, particularly in the corners of history that have been, and continue to be, notoriously dominated by men, of which rock ‘n’ roll is one.

Earlier this week, Lauren Mayberry, lead singer of CHVRCHES, reposted a disgusting (there is no other word for it) “fan” comment to her personal Instagram, decrying the amount of misogyny the band receives to their social media platforms daily. In an interview with Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper, Bjork recently declared that people assume men contribute more to her output than they do: “everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times”, she explains. Meredith Graves, in her essay on The Talkhouse, which she originally presented as a speech before her band’s performance at Basillica Landscape, and in an interview with Catalogue, declares that female musicians are considered less authentic than male musicians. Angel Olsen, in an interview with Catalogue, after Laneway Festival earlier this year, spoke of patronizing male radio presenters in the kind of No Big Deal way that suggests she gets treated this way a lot. The macho rock ‘n’ roll shtick is so invasive, that this morning, male musician Ruban Nielson AKA Unknown Moral Orchestra explained to me that he’s purposely trying to welcome all audience members, including women, into his new album, and to avoid “white guy rock music” tropes.

All of which is to say we should celebrate the stories by women who have contributed to the tome of rock ‘n’ roll while fighting against all of the above. From Viv Albertine recounting time spent with Sid Vicious and Mick Jones with tampons dangling from her ears, to Ellen Willis’ commentary of music and women in the ’70s, these are the real stories of real women pushing into an industry that doesn’t give a shit about them.

1) Just Kids, Patti Smith


No description of Just Kids will quantify the beauty of it, so let me just deliver the facts: it’s about Patti Smith’s early life, when she lived in squalor in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe, in places like you know, The Chelsea Hotel, where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of you know, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and honed her poetry craft via tutelege from Jim Carroll and via the works of Arthur Rimbaud.

2) The Essential Ellen Willis, edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz


Ellen Willis wasn’t a rock musician in the traditional sense, but at its core, rock ‘n’ roll has always been about challenging the social paradigms of the day, and trying to effect change. By writing about music, and then by writing about feminism, Ellen Willis most certainly did this. Willis was the first popular music critic for the New Yorker, and wrote about feminism for a myriad top tier publications, or at least those publications who didn’t find her ideas too radical. Her ideas certainly were, and still are (which demonstrates how little progress we’ve made), radical, but she delivered them in the kind of straight, nonchalant tone that said, “this is how it is, deal with it”.

3) Clothes, Music, Boys, Viv Albertine


Between dating Mick Jones from The Clash, frequenting SEX, Vivienne Westwood’s first store in London’s World’s End, battling cancer, and being the guitarist in the Slits, Viv Albertine has had an insane life. But it’s not the events in Clothes Music Boys that make it special, it’s Viv Albertine’s brutally honest description of them that make it not only special, but empowering. She discusses all of the things women think about men and sex and periods but are too afraid to say, lest we be considered grotesque. Clothes Music Boys made me feel like I had a partner in arms.

4) I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, Pamela Des Barres


Sometimes, honesty is the best policy. No, scratch that, honesty is always the best policy, especially when you are the most famous rock ‘n’ roll groupie ever, and are going to write a book about two decades worth of sexual encounters of the rock ‘n’ roll kind. In I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, Pamela Des Barres tells everything like it is, from penises, to pubic hair, which in an age in which Instagram is censoring all of these things, is pretty relevant. Also: groupies are maligned in popular culture, described by men as unnecessary sidekicks, which has, on so many occasions in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, simply not been true.

5) Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, Malka Marom


The BBC is reporting that Joni Mitchell is not in a coma, as was previously reported, and is expected to make a full recovery, so, we should all celebrate by finding out who the hell this woman actually is. Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words collects three interview with Joni Mitchell by broadcast journalist Malka Marom, from 1973, 1979 and 2012, over the course of which Marom, knowing she was in the presence of creative genius, was trying “to crack something so mysterious … the creative process itself, in all its fullness”.

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